Earlier this week I asked my friend to read my first blog post and give me feedback because I was concerned that I had crossed the line from expressing: "I feel so grateful for my resilience practices!" to expressing: "I feel judgmental of people who don't use resilience practices." I really did not intend any judgment, but I know that intention and impact don't always align and it's not easy for me to distill all the nuances of my mind and heart into a succinct written expression. So I wanted someone else's perspective on what I was communicating in the post because my own perspective is colored by the fact that I already know what I mean. My friend offered some positive feedback about the post and then said, gently and lovingly, that yes I had crossed the line as I had feared. One point he made was that getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night isn't always possible for people, especially if they have insomnia.

As a recovering perfectionist, having my worst fear confirmed about my very first public piece of writing triggered a tidal wave of shame. Wow, what a great opportunity to call on my resilience practices! Over the course of the day, I pulled them out of my "resilience toolbox" and put them into action: meditating, exercising, journaling, breathing, noticing the physical sensations I was experiencing, visualizing the shame leaving my body, and more. I felt acutely uncomfortable all day long. None of my various practices made a noticeable difference in the tightness in my chest and throat or in the mild nausea in my belly.

Eventually, I remembered one of my very favorite resilience practices, which is to remind myself of that: "It's uncomfortable, but it's not a problem," and I stopped focusing on trying to get rid of the uncomfortable sensations and instead focused on reminding myself that they would not last forever and that I could tolerate the discomfort and it would not actually harm me. I also watched a few episodes of 30 Rock in the evening, knowing that laughter is a helpful resilience practice for me and that focusing my attention on a funny TV show would bring some respite from the discomfort for a while. I felt tired from carrying around a backpack full of shame all day and I knew my alter-ego, Liz Lemon, would provide me with some much-needed emotional rest.

By the time I went to bed, the tightness in my chest and pressure in my throat had eased somewhat but they were still present. I was hoping that a good night of sleep would help them to ease further. And perhaps it would have, but I didn't get a good night of sleep. Instead, I woke in the wee hours of the night from an intense dream and it took me a long time to fall back to sleep. And then I woke again before 5:00 and couldn't get back to sleep after that. So my intended 7-8 hours of sleep ended up being more like a long nap and then a short nap.

Today I feel tired. I feel a bit unmotivated to engage in work activities. The grey, rainy, Seattle weather feels extra grey and rainy to me today. I'm still noticing a heaviness in my chest and a bit of tightness in my throat. I'm still aware of the echoes of shame in my system and it feels uncomfortable.

And I still feel generally content. I know that in the big picture, I am well. And I know that I am bigger than this discomfort. I know that, at my core, I am whole and unstruck. I know that I have survived more painful experiences than this and that I will get through this one too and there will be a time when I don't even remember this discomfort (well, unless I reread this post).

When I talk about contentment and equanimity, I don't mean to imply that there are no moments of struggle or anxiety or stress or discomfort. All of those things are part of being a human being, moving through a life. And I am a human being, moving through my life, experiencing ups and downs, pain and pleasure, excitement and boredom, connection and isolation, joy and sorrow, calm and anxiety. When I say that I am generally content, I mean that I have practices that help me to manage the challenges of my life without feeling overwhelmed and undone by them. When I talk about equanimity, I mean that I have developed (through many years of experimentation) the practice of pulling back my perspective to take in all of the positive, negative, and neutral aspects of my current life experience, so that I can view the current challenges as one part of a larger landscape rather than as the entire picture.

I love the title of Cheri Huber's book: What You Practice is What You Have. I practice resilience. I practice contentment. I practice equanimity. And sometimes I practice shame and perfectionism. That's uncomfortable, but it's not a problem.

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I've been having a lot of conversations recently, mostly over video-conference, where people share with me that they feel overwhelmed, exhausted, burnt out, or are struggling with questions about the meaning and purpose in their life. (Side bar - I still vividly remember my first Skype call, when I felt like George Jetson - I talking from Seattle to my friend in Hong Kong, live on video, for free. Mind blown! Now that miracle has become mundane and sometimes even feels like a burden to have to look presentable for a video call.)

I love these people that I've been talking to and I feel compassion and empathy for the very real challenges they are experiencing. I listen and I reflect and I validate their experience and their feelings (because I don't stop being a therapist/facilitator/coach, even when I'm being a friend). And I also have an awareness during those conversations that I do not feel overwhelmed or exhausted or burnt out. I generally feel energized and content and connected to a sense of purpose in my life.

We are living in the same context of a pandemic, systemic oppression and inequity, political polarization, and serious economic challenges. These folks I've been talking to are healthy, they are living in loving and supportive family households, with stable jobs and excellent benefits. I am also healthy and have a comfortable home, although I live alone and I left my stable job a couple months before the pandemic hit, so I've been launching a new business in a recession and my social interactions have become fairly limited. So our personal lifestyle contexts are similarly privileged. And I identify as empathic and sensitive, so I can't explain the difference in my experience with the idea that I just don't feel stuff the way my friends do. If anything, I tend to feel things more intensely than most people I know.

So what's the difference? If our external situations are pretty similar and it's not a question of my own lack of emotional sensitivity, then I can only blame my sense of well-being on my resilience practices. And by "blame" I mean I don't even know how to express my gratitude for these practices that have transformed my life, from a time when I was regularly struggling with depression and anxiety, to my present experience of living from a foundation of contentment and equanimity.

I believe that context matters and I believe in taking action to influence our context when possible. What has never been more clear to me than it is at the end of 2020, is that we, as humans, have limited control over our larger external context. And we have a great deal of control over our internal response to our context. I'm not the first to have this realization (among others, Viktor Frankl lays it out quite clearly in Man's Search for Meaning) and this year isn't the first time I've had it. But I feel like a spotlight has been shining on this awareness lately, making it visible on a daily basis.

And along with feeling gratitude for my own resilience practices and the positive effect they have on my life, I am also feeling deep gratitude for the opportunity to share this resilience and well-being journey with others - in my group class series and in individual therapy and coaching sessions. Practicing these techniques with other people brings me joy and deepens my own resilience by increasing my personal accountability, learning from others, and magnifying our collective energy by engaging in the journey together.

Speaking of gratitude, one of my favorite daily resilience practices is to intentionally notice and feel grateful.  

Some of my other favorite practices are:
- physical activity (at least three times a week)
- limiting media intake (content, quantity, and timing)
- connecting with loved ones 
- sleeping 7-8 hours a night

The specific challenges in life might change, but as far as I can see, life has always been and will always be challenging. And I don't believe that there is a quick fix to the challenges and I don't have the answer to the question of life, the meaning of the universe, and everything (unless Douglas Adams was correct and it's 42. Yes, I'm a little scifi nerdy.). I do believe that we humans are amazing beings with an innate capacity for well-being. And I believe a life of contentment is possible through a commitment to practices that support resilience and well-being.

What are you practicing these days?

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